Cancel Culture Warriors As Stalkers.
Posted by Edmund R. Folsom, Esq.
November 27, 2020
Maine’s stalking statute has a very broad sweep. A lot of what goes down as righteous in the cancel culture falls within that sweep. Sure, the stalking statute prohibits engaging in a course of conduct that makes a person fear bodily injury or death, but that’s not required for a violation. All that’s required is to intentionally or knowingly commit 2 or more acts — which might include nothing more than communications to or about a specific person — directed at or concerning a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to suffer emotional distress. That’s it.
The stalking statute renders the harassment statute superfluous. To commit harassment, a person must engage in a course of conduct with the specific intent to harass, torment or threaten another person, after having been warned in writing not to engage in that conduct by a law enforcement officer or by a court-issued protective order. Stalking covers all that and much more. Stalking requires no prior written warning and no specific intent to harass, torment or threaten. Simple awareness that what you communicate about a third person would be practically certain to cause a reasonable person emotional distress is enough, as long as you commit 2 or more “acts” of communication about that person. Stalking is the criminalization of bullying, and more.
How does this fit with cancel culture practices on social media? Those practices involve singling a person out for ostracizing – calling on others to denounce and shun the person, to stop doing business with the person or to make sure the person can no longer find employment. Don’t reasonable people suffer emotional distress when others seek to harm them this way? Of course they do, especially when you consider that the stalking statute defines emotional distress to include mere feelings of anxiety, fear (of anything) or apprehension. You might think, “Sure a person can get prosecuted for communicating about an ex-girlfriend or wife that way, but I have First Amendment protections when it comes to communicating that way with or about any stranger I disagree with.” How sure are you? Maine’s stalking statute doesn’t make that distinction. The statute defines all of it as a crime.
So, cancel culture warriors, when you act in concert with others to form a cyber pig pile, you and your fellow pig pilers share a common goal, and your common goal and individual actions make you accomplices. Your single communication quickly becomes more than 1, as in 2 or more, as in a course of conduct. What you do violates the letter of Maine’s stalking statute when you use communications to damage those you disagree with into silence.
Then again, you might be right about those First Amendment protections. Would you like to find out?
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not contain legal advice and is not to be taken as legal advice. Reading this post does not create an attorney/client relationship between the author and the reader.